NEW YORK -- Super Bowl ads have morphed into soap operas.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shrugged off aliens and other villains so he could get more milk for his kids at breakfast in a Super Bowl spot for the Milk Processor Education Program. Anheuser-Busch's commercial told the story of a baby Clydesdale growing up and returning to his owner for a heartfelt hug years later. And a Jeep ad portrayed the trials and triumphs of families waiting for their return of family members.
The reason for all the drama? With 30-second spots going for as much as $4 million this year and more than 111 million viewers expected to tune in, marketers are constantly looking for ways to make their ads stand out. And it's increasingly difficult to capture viewers' attention in between plays.
"A lot of advertisers are running long commercials to tell these stories that engage people often in a very emotional way," said Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. "These spots that tell stories really stand out in the clutter."
TEAR-JERKING MINI EPICS
Chrysler started the long-format commercial trend last year, with a two-minute spot starring Clint Eastwood that became very popular.
This year, Chrysler led the trend again with its two-minute salute to troops and their families. The ad featured Oprah Winfrey reading a letter from the Jeep brand to encourage families to stay hopeful.
"Wendy Ochoa, a high school teacher who lives in Novi, Michigan, said the ad was very emotional. "It tugs on your heartstrings, how can it not," Ochoa, 44, said.
Audi's 60-second ad in the first quarter, that featured an ending that was voted on by viewers prior to the game, showed the story of a boy gaining confidence from driving his father's Audi to the prom, kissing the prom queen and getting decked by the prom king.
The Audi mini-epic was a favorite of Super Bowl viewer Stephanie Bice, 39, a business development director in Oklahoma City.
"It was fun and whimsical," Bice said.
Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch pulled at heartstrings with a spot about a baby Clydesdale growing up and moving away from his farm and his trainer. The horse remembered the trainer after returning for a parade, and raced to hug him.